Essential ingredients for a great food innovation partnership


October 18, 2022

Over the past three years, I’ve spoken to hundreds of food and ingredients businesses eager to have access to new ingredients as they are challenged in the market by more disruptive brands. Fortunately, these leading, well-established brands are starting to see deep tech and sustainability as increasingly vital to their operations, and yet many of them know they don’t have the agility to innovate across the entire value chain themselves. More and more of them are recognizing that startups like Shiru will likely supply most of the deep-tech solutions for our greatest planetary problems. 

From this perspective, collaborations between global brands and deep-tech startups are a match made in heaven — so why do so many of them fizzle out?

The answer may be cultural, says Renita Kalhorn in a recent Forbes article. (The article is definitely worth a read if you’re a deep-tech investor, in open innovation at a large corporation, or building a B2B tech-enabled startup.) For example, where big companies may be slow to make strategic decisions, startups may fail to show up as an equal or take responsibility for defining the project. 

We’ve experienced this enough times by now to have learned how to move fast(er) with big companies the hard way: we’ve become very proactive in proposing technology offerings and business structures that make sense to our large, global partners and being quick to recognize when there simply isn’t a clear fit. Even if our v1 proposal isn’t a slam dunk, the iteration and willingness to negotiate by both parties is where the partnership is first created. 

It’s also becoming easier to spot a corporate with strong collaboration potential:

  • They have a high level of technical sophistication.
  • They’re fast in the early stages (e.g., 10 people aren’t needed in every meeting, the NDA doesn’t take 3 months).
  • They are clear about and willing to disclose their biggest pain points.
  • They are set up to take on risk working with early-stage companies, meaning they have R&D budget dedicated towards partnerships and can even get creative with equity proposals when they have high conviction and the startup is very early stage.
  • They don’t view Shiru just as a standard ingredients supplier but rather as a critical R&D partner they need to help ensure their future. 

With these lessons internalized, we’re accelerating our pace of bringing Shiru’s ingredients to market with extraordinary, established, global partners. 

We recently announced our first major partnership with CP Kelco, one of the food industry’s leaders in nature-based ingredients, to develop new ingredients that give plant-based burgers the same juicy texture as animal-based alternatives. CP Kelco’s shared commitment to excellence and technological savvy has made for a tremendous partnership as we take next-generation ingredients to scale.

Researchers standing outside a research facility
The Puratos-Shiru precision fermentation A-Team in Andenne, Belgium scaling sustainable ingredients for the baking industry.

We also announced our second major partnership — this one with Puratos, the industry leader in baking ingredients —  to scale and test Shiru proteins as promising next-generation egg replacements. Puratos and Shiru share strong cultural commitments to improving our food system in terms of sustainability, nutrition, and human well-being. These shared values make us great partners. By working as equals and responding nimbly to opportunity, we aim to bring something truly great into the world.

I’m curious to hear about other thriving partnerships between small innovators and established leaders in the food industry. Do you have a story you’d like to share, or a collaboration challenge we might be able to help with? Please reach out to me — I’d love to hear from you.